IGCSE vs. GCSE – what’s the difference?

IGCSE vs. GCSE – what’s the difference?

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This article discusses the differences between GCSE and IGCSE.

Introduced in 1986[i], GCSEs are sat by thousands of students across the UK every year. They are the standard qualification that teenagers take throughout their time at school, starting with one or two in Year 9 and studying multiple in Year 10 and 11 (you can also take GCSEs as an adult). GCSEs give students the ability to consume information that they need to succeed in further education (A Levels and University), as well as provide a great base layer of knowledge to help them as they enter the working world. Alongside the standard Mathematics, English, and Science subjects, students can take GCSEs covering a range of vocational and practical subjects, such as photography, music, art, and food technology.

As well as GCSE, you might have heard the term IGCSE and not understood the difference between the two qualifications. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between IGCSE vs GCSE and help you to understand what sets them apart from one another.

What is an IGCSE?

An IGCSE stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education.

To all intents and purposes, it is the same as a standard GCSE, with the important part of it being the word ‘International’. Normal GCSEs are recognised as a standard qualification in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland but can also be sat in a few other countries (Australia, India, and Canada). IGCSE is the international equivalent of this and is recognised in a wider range of countries.

Originally, IGCSEs were sat most often by children in international schools to ensure they had qualifications that would be relevant in countries outside of the UK. However, many public schools and academies now offer the IGCSE, some under the guise that they are ‘more challenging’, but since changes were made to the structure of the courses in 2017, they have been found to be roughly equivalent to standard GCSEs[ii] when it comes to difficulty. The UK IGCSE is equivalent to the secondary school curriculum in many other countries – including Hong Kong’s HKCEE, the Indian CBSE, and the North American GED.


GCSE exam hall

Now you know the basic differences between GCSE and IGCSE, we can have an in-depth look at what sets them apart from one another.

Go to: Online GCSE Courses

Availability in different countries

GCSE – GCSE exams are available to sit in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They can also be taken in India, Canada, and Australia.

IGCSE – IGCSE can be taken and are recognised worldwide – notably in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and the USA. They are usually taken in international schools. UK students can also take IGCSEs, but these aren’t usually offered in state schools, with 90%+ of annual IGCSE entries coming from independent schools[iii].


The subjects available to take as a GCSE are also available as an IGCSE. These subjects include core topics that the UK government recommend taking (also known as the English Baccalaureate, or EBacc[iv]):

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • A humanity subject – History or Geography
  • A language – French, Spanish, German, etc.

As well as other topics such as:

  • Music
  • Art
  • Physical Education
  • Drama
  • Food Technology
  • Astrology
  • Media Studies

You can find a full list of GCSE subjects here.

There is a pre-conception that IGCSEs are harder than GCSE, as they were modelled more closely on the UK’s previous standard qualification, O-Levels, but this isn’t true in more recent years. The framework for IGCSE was reviewed in 2017, bringing difficulty levels more in line with GCSE.


GCSEs used to be more coursework focused than IGCSEs, which were largely assessed on the final exams. However, this changed when the framework was reviewed in 2017, meaning that there isn’t much difference between the amounts of coursework each qualification type needs.

Each GCSE and IGCSE course require different levels of coursework to be completed. Coursework is marked and considered alongside exam results to ascertain a final grade. Some subjects are more coursework heavy, like Art, whilst others are mainly judged by the results of the final exam, like Mathematics.

The BBC explains how the new GCSE grades work (9 – 1)

Date of exams

GCSE exams are given set dates and everyone sitting the exam across the country will do so at the same time. This stops students from different schools telling each other which questions to expect. The vast majority of exams are held in school halls, but private GCSE candidates and homeschooled children might attend an examination centre.

GCSE – GCSE exams take place during a specific window of the school year, just before the six week summer holidays. Year 11 students will often officially finish school before their exams are completed. Exams start in May and finish in June. In 2022, they began on the 16th of May and ended on the 10th of June[v].

IGCSE – The same as above applies to IGCSE, but some subjects van be sat in November.

Results day for GCSEs is usually sometime in August. In 2022, it will be on the 25th.


Is IGCSE harder than a traditional GCSE?

They used to be harder because IGCSE’s framework was modelled off of O-Levels, which were notoriously tricky. But IGCSE and GCSE are more or less the same now, one is no more difficult than the other.

Do universities prefer IGCSE?

IGCSE and GCSE are accepted as equivalent qualifications. One is no better than the other in the eyes of universities, colleges, and other educational institutions.

Which should you take?

Most people won’t have a choice over whether they take GCSE or IGCSE. IGCSE makes more sense to do if you are an international student who will be moving to a different country over the course of study as more countries are equipped to teach this curriculum. GCSE is, subtly, tailored to UK students in many ways. For example, studying Shakespeare is mandatory for an English Literature GCSE, but is only optional when it comes to IGCSE.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Certificate_of_Secondary_Education

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_General_Certificate_of_Secondary_Education

[iii] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/dec/29/exam-reforms-boost-private-pupils-in-race-for-universities

[iv] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-baccalaureate-ebacc/english-baccalaureate-ebacc

[v] https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/secondary/gcse-2022-exam-dates-timetables-and-key-information#:~:text=The%20Joint%20Council%20for%20Qualifications,18%20May%20and%2010%20June.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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